Monday, April 15, 2019

Moral Relativism

There was a demonstration at BYU on Friday, April 13, 2019, protesting the uneven way honor code violations are enforced.
BYU Protest, Daily Herald Photo by Evan Cobb
While serving as Bishop of the BYU 172nd Married Student Ward, I conducted many ecclesiastical endorsement interviews that included discussions about the honor code. On a few occasions, I had to work directly with the BYU Honor Code Office, and once I attended the training they offered to Bishops. I do not envy the BYU staffers tasked with enforcing this basic set of behavioral rules. If all the allegations brought forward by BYU students last week are factual, then there have been serious lapses and policy violations on the part of the honor code enforcement team. On the other hand, according to the young people I work with at Book of Moron Central, there is a growing sentiment, even among BYU students, that there simply should be no rules at all in today's hyper-tolerant, non-judgmental culture. The Church's April 4, 2019 policy change relaxing some rules for members in gay marriages and children of LGBT couples emboldened the BYU students to agitate for changes in the honor code via public social action.

I entered BYU as a freshman in the fall of 1971. Men could not wear excessively long hair or beards, and women could wear dress pants but not jeans. By 1981 the no jeans rule for women was gone. BYU has tinkered with its dress and grooming standards over the years, but the honor code provisions about the Word of Wisdom, honesty, and chastity have been constants helping maintain the clean-cut, wholesome image the university is renowned for.
BYU Engineering Students
In 2019, do personal behavior standards still apply? Should they apply? President Nelson said yes in his worldwide training remarks to Church leaders on Thursday, April 4, 2019, two days before the start of the 189th Annual General Conference. The prophet said:
  • Members of the Church need "to become stronger in a spiritually darkened world."
  • "Our members are standing like a rock in a moving river."
  • "Fortify our people - the adversary is an incorrigible insomniac. He never sleeps."
  • The "Book of Mormon comes to our rescue" referencing Moroni 7:14-19:
    • Do not judge that which is evil to be of God.
    • Do not judge that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
    • It is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil.
    • The way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
    • The Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil.
    • Every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent by the power and gift of Christ.
    • Ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
    • Whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil.
    • After this manner doth the devil work.
    • He persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
    • Ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ.
    • See that ye do not judge wrongfully.
    • With that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
    • Search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil.
    • If ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ.
Good and evil exist and are as relevant today as they ever were. Some deeply-ingrained attitudes are cultural artifacts, not moral absolutes. The Book of Mormon offers clear and precise direction to distinguish eternal truths from passing fads. 2 Nephi 26:29-33 is unambiguous.
  • There shall be no priestcrafts.
  • Have charity, which charity is love, D&C 59:6.
  • Do not murder, 6th of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:6.
  • Do not lie, 9th of the 10 commandments.
  • Do not steal, 8th of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:6.
  • Do not take the name of the Lord God in vain, 3rd of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:5.
  • Do not envy, 10th of the 10 commandments.
  • Have no malice.
  • Do not contend one with another.
  • Do not commit whoredoms, 7th of the 10 commandments, D&C 59:6.
  • Black and white are equal (no racism).
  • Bond and free are equal (no elitism).
  • Male and female are equal (no sexism).
  • Heathen, Jew, and Gentile are equal (no religious discrimination).
Racism is a cultural artifact that thankfully is going away in contemporary society. In my youth, people talked about miscegenation in negative terms. You hardly hear that word anymore. In the course of my service in the Church, I have referred dozens of people to Edward Kimball's tremendous article about his father's revelation on priesthood.

Elitism is a cultural artifact whose influence is being mitigated by the Internet. BYU Pathway Worldwide, for instance, makes world-class education accessible to most humans on the planet.

Sexism is a diminishing cultural artifact. The first time I flew with a female co-pilot in the cockpit, Delta Airlines announced this paradigm-shifting advance over the intercom and we passengers erupted in the seat-belts-fastened equivalent of a standing ovation. This does not mean we should expect female Apostles. The Savior's precedent in the New Testament, 3 Nephi, and the Restoration has males holding priesthood keys.

Religious monopoly is a cultural artifact. Each March, the largest celebration of the Holi Festival in the Western Hemisphere is at the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah where thousands of BYU and UVU students gather to throw colored powder at each other and eat Indian food.
Spanish Fork Holi Festival, Photo from
Most of these young people will be in Sacrament Meeting the following Sabbath.

So far, so good. The BYU students on the lawn between the Wilkinson Center and the Law School are pretty much in sync with the Book of Mormon on racism, elitism, sexism, and religious exclusivity. The modern cultural rejection of the law of chastity, though, is plainly contrary to eternal truth revealed in the Book of Mormon.

John W. (Jack) Welch is my primary source for the idea that the Book of Mormon is our handbook of instructions for living in the 21st Century.

Kirk Magleby volunteers as Book of Mormon Central's Executive Director. Book of Mormon Central builds enduring faith in Jesus Christ by making the Book of Mormon accessible, comprehensible, and defensible to the entire world. We currently publish in English and Spanish.